Having a fun--and safe--summer with children can be a bit overwhelming; there are so many things to consider, including water safety, traveling, and how to fill up those long hours during the day when they’re not in school. For parents of children on the autism spectrum, summer can be especially challenging in that there are some things you have to think about in a different way.
While every child is different and has their own unique needs, with a bit of planning and organization, summer can be relaxing and fun for you, too. The trick is to not let yourself get overwhelmed, and you can achieve this by making lists, communicating with family members about your plans, and taking care of yourself so that you’re rested and able to handle anything that comes your way.
Summertime often means vacations and fun in the sun, so it’s important to teach your child water safety to make sure they’re ready to go in the ocean, river, lake or pool. According to the National Autism Association, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death for children and adults on the autism spectrum. However, with the right safety precautions, spending time in the water can be hugely beneficial to your child’s speech and cognitive functions and is often a soothing environment. Check with your local parks and recreation service to see what types of swim lessons are available for your child, or, for families who need financial assistance, there is a grant from Autism Speaks that awards scholarships for swim lessons. It’s also imperative that you check any medications your child might be taking for side effects from the sun and heat.
Traveling can take a physical and emotional toll on little ones who fall on the autism spectrum, so keep in mind that it is likely they won’t react to particular situations the same way you do. Sitting in a car or on a plane for hours at a time--especially if you are traveling with many people--can be overwhelming. It may be helpful to bring along noise-cancelling headphones for your child and a small favorite toy or stuffed animal for their comfort. Snacks and books or toys are also recommended, and it’s always a good idea to communicate with your child days or even weeks before your trip to let them know what to expect. For many kids on the spectrum, changing the normal routine will be a big deal and will require some preparation. If you are traveling by plane, you can usually request early boarding and bulkhead seats, which offer more room than regular seats.
Staying in unfamiliar places
Staying away from home can be overwhelming for a child on the autism spectrum; for some, it is a chance to explore new places and things. While this can be a good idea for some children, others need to stay close to Mom and Dad for their safety. If your child has wandered in the past, it’s a good idea to get them an ID/medical bracelet. If you’re staying in a hotel, try hanging heavy bells (like the ones you find at Christmastime) on the door, to prevent your child from opening the door and escaping.
Help your child to get good rest, which can be an issue when they aren’t sleeping in their own beds. If they enjoy playing games and learning on phones and iPads, consider giving them a more quiet activity--like reading or having a story read to them--about an hour before bedtime. Studies have shown that putting down the screen before bed can significantly improve sleeping habits.
There are tons of fun activities to explore during summertime or while on vacation, from putt-putt golf to paddleboat rides. Before embarking on any adventure, however, make sure all equipment is in good shape and that any safety equipment your child will be using is up to code and used properly. Helmets, car seats, seat belts/harnesses, and life vests all need to be worn correctly and fitted to the child.
Keeping communication open and staying organized will definitely help you feel better about anything your family wants to undertake this summer, and as long as you remember to pack accordingly and don’t let yourself get overly tired or overwhelmed, you’ll be able to relax and have fun.
Sean Morris is a former social worker turned stay-at-home dad. He knows what it’s like to juggle family and career. He did it for years until deciding to become a stay-at-home dad after the birth of his son. Though he loved his career in social work, he has found this additional time with his kids to be the most rewarding experience of his life. He began writing for LearnFit.org to share his experiences and to help guide anyone struggling to find the best path for their life, career, and/or family.